San Jose playoff hopes on the line; Atlanta must win without Martinez; Zlatan vs. Vela
With two weekends remaining in Major League Soccer's regular season, the race for the postseason -- four playoff spots remain up for grabs -- is coming down to the wire.
All 12 games will be played on Sunday, with six Eastern Conference games kicking off at 5 p.m. ET and six from the Western Conference beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.
THE WEEKEND'S BIG QUESTIONS
Does San Jose have anything left?
Four losses in a row and just two wins since August have Matias Almeyda's team fighting for their playoff lives (and it doesn't help that the coach's fiery personality got him suspended for Wednesday's 2-1 loss against Philadelphia).
To reach the postseason for just the second time since 2012, San Jose needs victories, starting with Seattle's visit to Avaya Stadium on Sunday (ESPN+, 7.30 p.m. ET). This is about as big as it gets in the league this weekend, with the Sounders fighting for second in the west.
It is a test of Almeyda's managerial talents and the bigger project in San Jose, but at least the Quakes will also get a boost with Chris Wondolowski's return, though they'll miss his support as a fan.
Can Atlanta win without Martinez?
The defending champion suffered a massive and poorly timed setback when Josef Martinez went down with a knee injury in last week's win over San Jose. The Venezuelan striker's 15-game scoring streak set MLS records and lifted the Five Stripes into a challenge for first place in the Eastern Conference.
While his prognosis seems to change for the better by the day, it's unlikely he'll be able to feature before the regular season is out, and the first test for Frank de Boer's squad without him saw Atlanta thrashed 4-1 by New York City FC in a battle for first place in the east on Wednesday. The loss effectively spelled the end of Atlanta's first-place chances and, combined with Philadelphia's win at San Jose, did significant damage to the possibility of securing second.
On Sunday, Atlanta visits Montreal (ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET). The Impact is technically still in the playoff hunt, but the expectation will be for United to handle its business. More than that, though, getting a victory without Martinez is important for Atlanta's confidence heading into the final weekend and the looming defence of their title.
Can LAFC make more history at bogey team Minnesota?
LAFC's march to the Supporters' Shield is complete. Bob Bradley's team pulled out of a five-game winless run on Wednesday night with a 4-1 win over Houston, prompting wild celebrations at Banc of California Stadium. LAFC's home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is also ensured.
LAFC needs four points from its final two games to set a single-season points record of 71 and visits Allianz Field to take on Minnesota United on Sunday (ESPN+, 7.30 p.m. ET). Bradley's men might be slight favourites, but don't forget that the Loons beat the Shield winners back on Sept. 1.
ONE THING THAT WILL DEFINITELY HAPPEN
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will score. It's generally a bad idea to bet against him, but that's especially true when the stakes are high. Ibrahimovic is a good bet to find the net on Sunday (ESPN+, 7.30 p.m. ET) against a Vancouver side with nothing left play for while the Galaxy strive to lock up a home playoff game.
Ibrahimovic scored one and made another in the Galaxy's win at Vancouver in April and, with 28 goals, sits two goals behind Carlos Vela for the Golden Boot with two games to play. It's on.
THE GAME YOU'RE NOT PLANNING TO WATCH ... BUT SHOULD
Colorado vs. FC Dallas (ESPN+, 7.30 p.m. ET) might not look like the most glamorous matchup, but there is intrigue under the surface for a game between two teams connected by a coach who bolted Colorado for Dallas in 2014.
Oscar Pareja is in Tijuana these days, but this one still figures to have some spice. FC Dallas are squarely in the hunt for a playoff spot with a young, exciting group, while the Rapids are still mathematically in it and could spring a miracle.
PLAYER TO WATCH
We will go with the obvious choice and pick Vela, who is closing out an otherworldly season. His 30 goals puts him one behind Martinez's single-season record of 31 (set just last year), while his 15 assists puts him third in the league. Only one player in history, Sebastian Giovinco, had accomplished at least 20 goals and 15 assists in a season.
Vela blew past those numbers, becoming the first player to hit the 25/15 and 30/15 thresholds. He could break the single-season goal-scoring record on Sunday at Minnesota (ESPN+, 7.30 p.m. ET).
A TEAM THAT NEEDS SOME LUCK
Portland Timbers cannot catch a break. First the scoring dries up, then Brian Fernandez picks up a stomach issue and then, just when the goals do come back thanks to Jeremy Ebobisse, a 2-0 lead is thrown away at home to New England.
Portland will be on the road for the first time since Aug. 4 when they visit Kansas City on Sunday (ESPN+, 7.30 p.m. ET). With the margins fine enough to cut Timber Joey's log, Giovanni Savarese and his team are hoping for some better fortune as they look to secure postseason soccer.